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Tennessee CB Henry Keeping Promises

November 22, 2000

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Karnella Henry had just come home after working 12 hours at a Proctor & Gamble plant. She was very tired, and her 11-year-old son helped take off her shoes and socks.

She recalls young Travis Henry looking at her and making this promise: ``Momma, I’m going to work so hard. I’m going to play football, and by the time you turn 40 years old, you ain’t going to have to work no more.″

Now 21, Karnella Henry’s second son is close to making those words come true.

The Tennessee senior tailback from Frostproof, Fla., who has racked up 1,130 yards this season, became the No. 25 Volunteers’ all-time leading rusher last Saturday with a career total of 2,894 yards. He has a chance to crack 3,000 this weekend against Vanderbilt in his final regular season game.

And in April _ just in time for the NFL draft _ Karnella Henry will turn 40.

Travis Henry has come a long way _ with some ups and downs _ in the past 10 years.

He set a state single-season rushing record at Frostproof High School with 4,087 yards his senior year, drawing the attention of recruiters at many schools _ including Tennessee.

But once he arrived in Knoxville in 1997, Henry was slowed by injuries.

He damaged the cartilage in his knee the summer before his first season, and when he got to fall practice it swelled up. So he had surgery and sat out the first six games.

Then he played two seasons in the shadow of Jamal Lewis, who was drafted last year by the Baltimore Ravens.

A frustrated Henry thought about leaving Tennessee early in his career, but his mother convinced him to stay.

``I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. (Your) day is going to come and the whole Tennessee fans are going to see.’ I told him that was going to happen,″ Karnella Henry said.

It certainly happened last Saturday with 107,000 fans in Neyland Stadium chanting his nickname _ ``Cheese″ _ as he approached the rushing record.

He captured the hearts of fans last year against Vanderbilt, when he dove into the end zone, landed on his head and suffered a concussion and spinal cord contusion. But he recovered in time to play in the Fiesta Bowl, which the Vols lost to Nebraska 31-21.

Henry knows now his mother was right when she insisted he remain a Vol.

``I’m glad I listened to her and came back because she knew in her heart that I was going to succeed here at Tennessee. But at the time I wasn’t seeing the whole thing. I was just impatient,″ Henry said.

He surprised many, including himself and coach Phillip Fulmer, by setting the record since he has only 523 carries this year, which is fourth-best at Tennessee.

``Obviously becoming the all-time leading rusher was special for us all and a very deserving honor for Travis. Certainly we’re going to take aim at trying to get that 3,000 yards if we can,″ Fulmer said.

The record didn’t really surprise Karnella Henry. She didn’t need college recruiters and pro scouts to tell her what kind of football player he would be.

She knew after one little league football game when he was 9 years old.

The single mother who has worked 12-hour days, six days a week at factories and picking oranges to raise her four children decided to leave work one Saturday during lunch to watch him play.

``Travis Henry ran a long touchdown, and do you know he was so happy that I was there he came over to where our group was sitting, yelling ‘Momma, I made that touchdown.’ And everybody thought that was so funny. He still had that ball in his hand,″ she said. ``I just knew he was going to be something.″


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